Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Unknown God Discovered in Turkey

Archaeologists working at a 2000-year-old site in Turkey near the city of Doliche recently found a basalt stele that appears to depict a previously unknown deity. Enough is known of ancient religious practices that such discoveries are relatively rare, and this one appears to be from Roman times, a period for which a fair amount of historical documentation exists.

The deity is depicted on the stele as a bearded man surrounded by what appear to be images of leaves and vegetation, suggesting that the deity was associated with plant growth and fertility. They may also indicate an association with a particular plant. Some ancient cults grew up around the use of entheogens, and I can see where the image of the god emerging from the leaves might allude to the use of some such plant in a ritual context. Or perhaps the god was associated with a particular crop grown in the region.

The sanctuary’s grounds reveal much about the continuity of religious beliefs over time, as it is made up of various constructions and renovations of different time periods – from a wall from the Iron Age, and the Roman-age foundations from 2nd century A.D., through to its use as a Christian monastery in the time of the crusades. The excavation has revealed finds from all periods of the site’s history, now including a basalt stele featuring a unique Roman relief and depicting an unknown god.

The stele measures one and a half meters (five feet) and was being used as a buttress in a wall of the Christian monastery on the sanctuary site. Archaeologists suspect the image represents a fertility or vegetation god. AlphaGalileo quotes Dr. Michael Blömer from the Cluster of Excellence, describing the find, “The basalt stele shows a deity growing from a chalice of leaves. Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. The pictorial elements suggest that a fertility god is depicted.” The beard composition and arm posture echo back to similar Iron Age depictions.

My first thought from the original description was that the "tree" to the deity's left might be a vine and that the "chalice of leaves" suggested Dionysus, but none of the leaves appear very grapelike and there are no actual grapes depicted on the stele. So that's most likely incorrect.

Assuming that the leaf images are not generic, identifying the particular plant they depict could provide some insight into the deity's true nature. Hopefully, as the excavation continues more evidence will come to light that will help archaeologists learn more about this unknown god and the practices associated with his worship.

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Nerd said...

And here I thought I was the only unknown god!

Scott Stenwick said...

Oh, there are others...